We’re veering off from our regular haunted houses and ghost stories to bring you a truly creepy concept in paranormal literature: the doppelgänger.
These creepy creatures are duplicate of living people, and today we’re here to tell you some superstitions, myths and creepy historical tales in order to dick-tect whether they exist. So, are doppelgängers myths, omens or simply non-existent at all?
We’ll let you decide.
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What is a doppelgänger?
The term doppelgänger is German term that literally means “double-walker” or “double-goer”. In supernatural lore, they are said to be non-biological duplicates of living people—they aren’t someone who simply looks like another human being, they are a duplicate. Some believe that doppelgängers are an exact copy that share your memories, traits and physical characteristics. If someone you know sees your doppelgänger they’ll probably swear that they saw you, despite the fact that you weren’t there.
Traditionally, doppelgängers have been seen as evil or sinister. Like an evil version of you. In fact, seeing your own double is said to be bad or even deadly as they’re known to be an omen of misfortune or even, in some cases, death. Doppelgängers aren’t to be confused with bilocation, which is the psychic ability to project yourself to a second location—the idea of literally being in two places at once.
Doppelgängers in Lore
German lore distinguishes a doppelganger from a ghost, describing it as a wraith or the apparition of a living person. A wraith, for those of us unsure, is found in Scottish folklore and is the spirit of a person who has either just died or is on the edge of dying. This would explain why a doppelganger is said to be an omen of imminent death.
The idea first became popular in horror literature, appearing in novels such as The Double, an 1846 novel by famed writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky where a man is “driven to madness by poverty and unrequited love, beholds his own wraith, who succeeds in everything at which he has failed.” However, the actual term was introduced by a German author, Jean Paul in his 1796 novel Siebenkäs which tells the story of the character exchanging identities with his friend and lookalike.
But Germans aren’t the only ones to have historically believed in the doppelganger. Ancient Egyptians believed in what was called the “ka” which was “one aspect of the soul, depicted as a spirit identical to the body.” And you might have heard of the changeling which is essentially a supernatural child left in the place of a human one—if you’re interested in hearing more about changelings, this is the next topic that we’re covering in our Patreon only bonus content. If you want in on the action, head to patreon.com/theladydicks. Doppelgänger-like creatures also show up in Norse mythology as the vardøger. These are less ominous creatures who “simply appeared in a place before the person it resembled, leading others to believe they had already arrived.” And, finally, they appear in 18th and 19th century English and Irish literature as the “fetch” which is an “ethereal double” that signals death.
There are a number of creepy superstitions surrounding doppelgängers…
The first, we’ve already covered: seeing your doppelganger is an omen of death. While that’s not the case in all stories, three of our four historical stories have some form of death overshadow. Though arguably Lincoln’s death didn’t happen right away.
The second big superstition is that doppelgangers give malicious advice. Doppelgangers are not your friend. Even if they don’t mean death upon you, they aren’t there to help you get Jake in accounting to fall in love with you. Some folklore references point to doppelgangers being your evil twin. Like the little devil on your shoulder, these bad boys do their best to plant sinister ideas in your head. Riffing on the evil double idea, some Indegenous peoples believed that your doppelganger is the evil version that lives in the Underworld. This comes from an ancient Hopi legend that refers to twin beings as the Child of the Sun and Child of the Water—they believe that whatever is happening here in the Upper World, is opposite in the Under World.
There are some theories out there that someone else seeing your doppelganger can mean that you’re very sick, even if you don’t know it. Some believe that a doppelganger spotted by a loved one is an indication that you are not in good health.
A slightly less sinister but still extremely creepy theory is that doppelganger’s are a ghostly double of you that lived before you did. This is mostly seen in the Norse mythology of vardøger.
Ancient Egyptians believed in the Ka which was essentially your spirit double. They believed that everyone had a spiritual double, and when you died, your double would live on so long as they had somewhere to live, otherwise you would die and lose your chance at eternal life. This is actually why they mummified their dead. It kept the body from decomposing so the Ka could continue to live somewhere.
If you’ve ever seen the old photos of Keanu Reeves historical doppelgangers that are basically all over the internet, you should know that this isn’t great either. In South America, the Canelos Indians believed that photographs captured the soul of a person, and they further believe that historical portraits are doubles that can also be a bad omen.
The final superstition regarding doppelgangers is that they’re proof of an alternative universe. They believe that the instance of a doppelganger is an instant where you’re actually glancing into an alternative universe.
Do doppelgängers actually exist?
You’ve probably heard the line “I saw someone who looked exactly like you” before. Typically this is someone who looks like you but doesn’t look exactly the same as you, but it’s largely believed that there’s at least one person out there in the world that looks like you—in fact they say that seven people in the world share your face.
While we can’t confirm or deny the truth of that, there is definitely photo evidence out there of people who look EXACTLY the same but have no familial relation.
Niamh Geany and two friends started what’s called the TwinStranger project where you essentially go on an internet search for a stranger that looks exactly like you. And she actually managed to find not one but TWO doppelgänger twins. In fact, there are a ton of success stories from Twin Stranger of people finding someone in the world that looks just like them.
However, are these really doppelgangers? Looking alike is only one part of the mix. Doppelgangers are said to have the same memories, experiences and overall knowledge of their real counterpart. They don’t simply look the same, they are the same—like a shadow of the real thing.
Famous Historical Doppelgängers
There are a ton of stories of famous historical figures seeing their doppelgängers, but today we’re going to talk about four famous creepy stories:
Perhaps the most famous historical doppelgänger was that of Abraham Lincoln—the 16th president of the United States. Lincoln had a number of bizarre paranormal experiences, which we’ll have to cover in a single episode just because they’re so bizarre but today we’re just going to focus on the time that he saw himself.
On November 9, 1864, Lincoln told his confidant and journalist, Noah Brooks, the story of the time he saw his very own doppelgänger. Just after Lincoln’s election in 1860, he described himself as “well tired out” and went home to take a rest. He was lying down opposite of a bureau with “swinging glass” aka a mirror on it, and he saw himself “reflected nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other.”
Lincoln described himself as being “a little bothered” before the illusion vanished. When he went to lie down again, the being appeared. He was the same but clearer, with skin “five shades paler” than his normal self. He got up once again and the being “melted.”
He said he was visited a few more times by the being and said that he felt “a little pang as if something uncomfortable had happened.” He also managed to bring the being back to show his wife, who became increasingly worried about it. She believed that it was a “‘sign’ that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term.”
There are a few critics of this story that suspect that the sighting was just a trick of an old mirror. But there is no denying that Lincoln’s wife Mary’s prediction came true. On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was shot in the head and killed by John Wilkes Booth, three months into his second term.
Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I made a brief appearance in our episode on Bloody Mary as the cousin of Mary Queen of Scots, one of our mirror witch suspects, but that’s not her only connection to the paranormal. The daughter of Henry VIII—the pig of a king that murdered all of his wives—Elizabeth I ruled England from 1558 to 1603. She turned the tables on the royals because she refused to marry or have a child, and still held a lengthy reign on the throne.
But it’s said that she got a little look-see of her own death when she walked into her own corpse lying on the floor of her chambers. She described her deathly doppelgänger as “pallid, shivered, and wan.” Elizabeth was described as being a level-headed woman, but even she knew the sighting was somewhat ominous. A mere few days later early in the morning on March 24, 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died at the age of 69. She had been ill for a while prior to then.
Catherine the Great
Catherine II Empress of Russia, more popularly known as Catherine the Great, was the longest-ruling female ruler of Russia. She ruled the country for 34 years, from 1762 to 1796, during what is known as the Golden Age of Russia. Not only that, but she got to power by quite literally kicking her hubby, Peter III off his throne. But today’s story isn’t about Catherine’s rule, instead we’re talking about the day that someone else was sitting on her throne.
One night Catherine’s attendants busted into her room while she was lying in bed, telling her that they had just seen HER entering the throne room, despite the fact that they knew she was in bed. Catherine, intrigued and probably pissed that someone was warming her seat, kicked herself out of bed and stormed down to the throne room to investigate.
Catherine entered the throne room, we’re guessing in a real rage, and came face-to-face with someone who looked EXACTLY like her, sitting calmly on her throne. Catherine immediately ordered her guards to shoot her—well, the her that was sitting on the throne—but the bullets had no effect. Catherine 2.0 suddenly disappeared and that was that.
It wasn’t long after this incident that Catherine collapsed, suffering a stroke. She became comatose in hours. She died the evening of November 17, 1796, less than 24-hours after collapsing.
Emilie Sagée was a Latvian schoolteacher in the 1800s, while she was an awesome teacher and her students loved her, she had a record of 18 different teaching jobs in 16 years—and it’s not because she was a world traveller. The problem was instead of the awesome cool Ms. Sagée, there were actually two of them.
Emilie was teaching at a fancy French-language private girl’s school one day, and as she wrote on the blackboard a second Ms. Sagée appeared in front of the class mimicking her movements. This again happened a later evening in the dining hall where both versions of Emilie appeared.
The appearance of the duplicate teacher started to become more and more frequent, naturally creeping the kidlets out. Emilie was teaching a sewing class in front of 42 girls one day when she had to step out to speak to another teacher. In her place her double appeared, standing at the front she starred hauntingly at the children.
The weird thing was that Emilie was the only one who couldn’t actually see her doppelgänger. But she knew it was there because, as witnesses shared, she became overcome with fatigue and the colour would drain from her face when her duplicate was near. Eventually, though a beloved teacher, Emilie was fired because her double terrified the children too much.
I did some extra research to see if there was any one to get rid of a doppelganger that’s decided to grace you with its presence, but as it turns out I couldn’t find anything. So, if you do get caught with your doppelganger you might be screwed… more likely than not though, anything that you come across will simply be a person that looks like you with its own life, personality and otherwise.
So, is a doppelganger myth or omen? Or is it simply a natural occurrence in a world with 7 million people? We’ll let you decide…
The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with the information for Doppelgänger: Myth or Omen? themselves, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky iTunes reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:
- Famous Cases of Real Dopplegangers, LiveAbout.com.
- 5 Historical Figures Who Saw Their Doppelgänger… And Then Died, The Confessionals Podcast.
- Doppelgänger, Britannica.
- Tracing the Development of the Doppelgänger, Atlas Obscura.
- 8 Creepy Doppelgänger Superstitions That Will Make You Hope You Never Meet Your Double, Bustle.
- Doppelgangers and Curious Myths and Stories of Spirit Doubles, Ancient Origins.
- What is a Doppleganger? Finding Your Exact Lookalike, LiveAbout.com.
- The Time When You’re Most Likely to See Your Doppelgänger, Vice.
- 4 Creepy Doppelgänger Myths That Will Make You Never Want To See Your Double, Bustle.
The Lady Dicks Podcast was created by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks are Andrea Campion, Nikki Kipping and Tae Haahr. “Ghosts of Rolling Hills Asylum” was research, written, edited and produced by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks theme music, A Pink Panther, is licenced through AudioJungle.
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